Maria Kalogeropoulos was born in New York City in 1923 but moved to Athens, Greece when she was just 13 years old. It was in Greece, her parent’s home country, that Maria received her musical education. Her instructor, Maria Trivella, described Callas’ young voice as “a great talent that needed control, technical training, and strict discipline in order to shine with all its brilliance.”
And shine Maria did. Within a few years she was performing professionally with the Lyric Theater Company, and by 1942 had landed the leading roles in both Tosca and Tiefland. Her performance as Marta in Tiefland received glowing reviews with one critic declaring her “one of those God-given talents that one can only marvel at.”
With her success in Greece, Maria Callas went on to become an international star performing in the major opera houses throughout Italy including the prestigious La Scala in Milan. In 1954, she returned to the USA to make her American debut in Norma. Two years later she opened the New York’s Metropolitan Opera’s 72nd season with another lead performance in Norma.
Ed Sullivan always made a point of including classical artists among the rock ‘n roll, comedy and novelty on The Ed Sullivan Show. He knew that Americans in smaller towns would never have a chance to see the likes of Maria Callas performing live. Because Callas was performing just a few blocks away at The Metropolitan Opera, he had to have her on his show.
On November 25, 1956 Maria Callas made her national television debut on The Ed Sullivan Show. Following a short introduction of some of the officers at The Metropolitan Opera by Ed, Met director Rudolph Bing set the scene for the Puccini opera Tosca.
The audience was whisked away to the Palazzo Farnese in Rome during the year 1800. Maria Callas and George London were in full regalia for this huge production number. In the Act 2 scene, celebrated singer Floria Tosca, played by Callas, begged chief of police Scarpia, played by London, to spare the life of her lover and revolutionary, Cavaradossi. When Scarpia offered acquiesce only if Tosca gave herself to him, she stabbed the chief of police to death. Maria Callas put on a very dramatic and powerful performance highlighted by the passionate aria “Vissi d’arte” (“I lived for art, I lived for love, never did I harm a living creature. Why, O Lord, why dost thou repay me thus?”). Following the scene, Ed Sullivan summed up the performance best, calling it “a moving experience.”
That evening The Ed Sullivan Show gave the whole country the opportunity to see one of the world’s most renowned opera. The influence of Maria Callas’ artistic talents have endured, and though thirty years have passed since her death, she’s still the definition of the diva as artist—and still one of classical music’s best-selling vocalists.